I’ve been thinking and reading about demagogues a lot this summer. Demagogues are political leaders who appeal through pathos rather than logos. For the non-Greek, feelings rather than logic. Most commonly, demagogues manipulate our fear and anger, and they generally direct those emotions at an other or a “them.” Demagogues require opponents as scapegoats. They require division.
We’ve seen their kind many times throughout history, yet I’m optimistic about them. For every one that has risen to power, I like to think many failed to gain any traction. Recognizing them is simple, something I expect any American should be able to do instinctually, yet if you find yourself caught by their influence, it may all seem a bit vexing and complicated. That’s because some of what they’re saying, on some level, makes sense and is, on some level, true. They require reality distorted.
When they find their footing in a society, they are effective. The most notable demagogue in history is, without a doubt, Hitler, but here in the United States, we had Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who led the crusade against communism and socialism in America. His ascent to power was halted, but it still resonates in our culture, society, and politics over half a century later in a country where any hint of social welfare is labeled socialism despite being constitutional (see Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1). In that regard, perhaps McCarthy was more successful than Hitler.
Of course, now we have Donald Trump, a demagogue who has no doubt benefited from that legacy. Examples of Trump’s demagoguery are easy to find, but the latest one is, “They want to destroy our suburbs.” Who is “they,” Donald? Are you talking about your fellow Americans? Absolutely nobody wants to destroy our suburbs. This is a lie.
This claim is founded on another faulty one, the idea that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. He doesn’t. We have here a lie within a lie.
And that claim is founded on another lie (lie-ception?), which is that defunding the police would eradicate the police. I’ll admit whoever conceived the idea chose a poor verb, but the intent of “defunding” the police is to correct a lengthy trend of dropping progressively more responsibilities on police officers who aren’t trained to perform those services and, instead, solve those needs with resources that are adequately prepared to support them. The idea here is the police will then be better equipped to, you know, police. Perhaps, we hope, this means they will find a way to address the brutality in their enforcement because (this is a bit of a digression but worth stating) no one is anti-police. We are anti police brutality, and if you aren’t able to disassociate the two, I’d encourage you to reflect on that.
Of course, this is all moot, considering Biden has not stated he intends to “defund” the police, and the chances of that happening at the federal level are cosmically slim, if even possible at all. I, frankly, don’t know because I don’t even think it’s worth researching beyond satisfying curiosity, and who has time for that anymore?
The bottom line here is Trump is a demagogue. That means, by nature, he’s lying to us, and the trouble is he isn’t just telling us fibs or spin. He’s using lies to attempt to manipulate us. Here is just one example of that. At best, he and his administration are untrustworthy. At worst, he and his administration are harmful to our country, and our trust and support are complicity.